Ollie's Modern Life

This month, Ollie rejoices in the slurp of the tea and the crunch of the biscuit
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I’ve worked in many different offices over my working life. They all have their individual quirks and cultural differences, identities that are born from hour after hour spent with your colleagues, locked up in a fluorescent-lit hell hole. When you start in a new job, part of your first few weeks is spent figuring out how the whole ecosystem of your new workplace ticks along and fit into it with as little disruption as possible. 

My extensive experience in these frankly horrible situations has led to an interesting observation. Breaks. Why is no one taking any breaks?

Offices are competitive environments where you can feel as though your every move is being scrutinised and – to make sure you’re pulling your weight and to avoid being booted out of the revolving door by a couple of burly security guards – you spend as little time making a brew or scoffing your sandwich as possible.

That’s led to a culture of weak tea and crumb-filled keyboards, IBS bloated blobs of flesh transfixed to screens while working up a yet-to-be-diagnosed repetitive strain injury. We’re a nervous wreck of a workforce who dine out on shit over-packaged sushi from bustling multinational lunch vending conglomerates, spending more time fretting over our overdraft than we spend being productive. It’s a right old mess, but how do we fix it?

When I was at school, my entire day was planned out for me. I knew that at 10:30 I had half an hour to do nothing and then at 12:30 I had another hour to do some more nothing. The time was set aside, banked, ready for me to cash in at those times whether I thought I needed it or not. Today we don’t take breaks because we don’t feel like we need to on any given day. We live in a ‘do more’ culture that’s making us more vulnerable to stress, anxiety and fatigue.

As a freelancer, I’ve seen this trend extend not just in day to day break taking, but holiday taking. My other freelancing colleagues suffer the same difficulty as me; finding time to go on holiday is very difficult. And it’s a trend which seems to be making its way into the permanent workforce. There’s a hint of a boast whenever someone tells me “I haven’t even taken a holiday this year, I’m going to have to roll my days over”. They’re more often than not the worst people in the office, who complain the most and get the least done. That’s no coincidence. 

Why can’t we celebrate the break and change attitudes so those that take it aren’t victim to the grumbles of the office nob heads? We should frown upon those who don’t take breaks because they’re the ones who are likely to be more tired and fuck up more often.

The Danish government have a thing called ‘feriepenge’ or ‘holiday allowance’. It’s a chunk of money that is paid into your ’holiday account’ every month and when you take your holiday, cha ching! You’re quids in, ready to go wild in Magaluf.

It’s an incentive that encourages people to take a break, and we should be doing the same here. I want to see an entire office grind to a halt at 10:30, boil the kettle and have a natter about nothing in particular for half an hour then at 12:30, all sit down at a table with a decent lunch, perhaps a beer or a glass of wine mulling over the latest gossip from Bake Off.

I would put money on it boosting productivity. If I don’t have a break, you may as well hire a bag of sand with a face drawn on it. Seriously, I’m writing this having been working since 5am without a break and I mean, well, it’s not very good is it?

In Jerome K. Jerome’s ‘Three Men In A Boat’, the protagonist is suffering from a whole host of stress induced ailments. On visiting the doctor he was prescribed…

‘1lb beefsteak, with

1 pt bitter beer - every six hours

1 ten-mile walk every morning.

1 bed at 11 sharp every night’

This advice is more important than ever. As we see more and more of our work taken over by AI, we will need to be better at managing our time, at work and at home. We will have to understand the importance of taking a break more than ever before and how vital it is for us to just do nothing from time to time. 

So, now you’ve read this, do me a favour. Turn your phone off and spend the next 30 minutes doing nothing. You can thank me later.


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